'Bully' US Irks Canada In Trying to Pry Open Its Cultural Market

IN a bid to protect its culture, Canada is girding for a potential trade clash this fall with the United States over invading US magazines, TV specialty channels, and copyright protection.

Canadians have long been adamant on saving at least a slender slice of their culture from being swamped by made-in-USA products like Sports Illustrated magazine, cable TV channels such as Country Music Television, and hot new films like Apollo 13.

Now US Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, invigorated by a trade ''victory'' over Japan, is charging northward, warning Canada to drop barriers protecting its cultural industries. This irks Canada's artist community, which insists that ''bully'' trade tactics should not be used to squash Canadian culture.

''Kantor's bellicose attitude is aimed at not just one or two problem areas, but at all of Canada's policies to protect our share of our own market,'' says Keith Kelly, national director of the Canadian Conference for the Arts, an Ottawa lobbying group.

Canadian TV viewers already get all major US networks and a slew of US-based specialty cable channels. About 3,000 US magazines occupy 90 percent of newsstand space, squeezing out most Canadian periodicals. Nine out of 10 Canadian moviegoers head to American films.

So dominant are US movies in Canada, that 96 percent of Canadian screens refuse to show anything but US movies. That makes life tough for independent Canadian filmmakers like Patricia Rozema. In 1987, Ms. Rozema directed a minor hit - ''I've Heard the Mermaids Singing'' - that appeared around the world. Even so, she couldn't convince even one theater in her hometown in Sarnia, Ontario to show it.

TV, magazines at issue

The immediate battle, however, is not over movies but over the penetration of US magazines and cable TV specialty channels.

Canada and the US were nose-to-nose last month over a 10-year-old Canadian law that let regulators in January license a domestic country-music cable TV channel - and expel a US competitor. The US company - Nashville-based Country Music Television (CMT) - called Mr. Kantor. He threatened to unveil $750 million in trade sanctions.

Canada blinked. Instead of remaining shut out of Canada, CMT is now back after being allowed to purchase a 20 percent share of Canada's ''New Country Network'' (NCN).

The CMT debacle has columnists fuming. ''Will [Prime Minister Jean] Chretien Stand up to Yanks?'' read a recent Financial Post column headline.

A full-fledged battle over TV could emerge this winter when more cable speciality-channel licenses are awarded. Kantor is dissatisfied that the law that Canada used to dump CMT is still in place.

''This policy continues ... to threaten the security of other US services currently authorized for distribution in Canada and discourages other US services,'' he said after the CMT-NCN deal was reached June 22. As soon as this fall, Kantor may also target Canadian laws that protect its magazine industry, observers say.

New tax?

New legislation before Parliament would slap a new 80 percent tax on Canadian advertising in electronically assembled, so-called ''split-run'' editions of US magazines. Sports Illustrated is the most prominent example.

Finally, the US is also displeased over a new addition to Canadian copyright law providing for a tax on audio cassettes.

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